Why employee recognition is so vital

Recognition at work isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s a business imperative

It’s an employee’s market out there. In the midst of a big work/life shakeup, employees are starting to wonder if the grass is perhaps a little greener elsewhere. To beat the great resignation, organisations need to be making a big effort to keep their talent at the centre of everything that they do.

Perhaps one of the easiest and most impactful ways to show your employees you care and boost employee engagement is to give them some appreciation and recognition. It’s not rocket science, but many organisations struggle to get this right, especially in the new hybrid world where much of our interaction happens through a screen.

It’s not internet connection that helps people really show up for work, it’s human connection. We need that connection for businesses to run smoothly, and to ensure that everyone feels like they are valued for who they are and what they do versus just the output from their work. Recent research from Gallup and Workhuman shows exactly that. Bringing the human connection to work in the right way can mutually benefit everyone.

Bringing back meaningful connections

In hybrid and remote working environments, small, meaningful encounters are scarcer and, for many organisations, work has become more transactional. Dr Meisha-Ann Martin, senior director, people analytics and research at Workhuman, explains: “Things that we used to do, just as a matter of us interacting with each other, don’t happen as organically anymore. We need to be more thoughtful about how people experience work and to carefully curate some of these things that used to just happen naturally.”

One example is birthdays. When everyone was in the office each day, birthdays were naturally and casually celebrated, bringing a simple but important element of human connection to work. Now, they often go unnoticed if employees are largely working remotely or don’t all congregate in the office – and people miss it. Martin explains: “Now, we need to use technology to curate those experiences because they’re not happening by chance.”

The same, she says, is true of appreciation. “There are less thank yous in our lives right now. As such, we need to carefully and thoughtfully infuse more appreciation into people’s lives. Our research keeps telling us over and over that it matters, particularly when times are tough, and times are still tough two years later.”

Getting employee recognition right

Recognition not only makes people feel good, but it builds affinity and helps boost the employer brand. Martin says: “What we see over and over again is that people who are recognised are more engaged, and they’re more likely to stay within with an organisation.” In fact, new Gallup research shows that employees who strongly agree that their recognition needs are fulfilled are three times as loyal to their organisation.

However, it’s not enough to just throw out a few generic thank yous here and there. Getting employee recognition right matters. “Employees need to feel like the appreciation they’re receiving is authentic, that they’re getting the right amount of recognition for what they’re contributing, and that they’re not being overlooked,” explains Martin. “They need to feel that gratitude is embedded into their workplace culture – where they’re being recognised, where they’re seeing other people being recognised, and where they’re empowered to recognise other people as well. And lastly, that the recognition is personalised, so it’s about them and what they specifically bring to the table.” That last point is crucial, because if praise feels impersonal and insincere, you may actually be doing more harm than good.

Clear, specific praise also helps boost performance, Martin adds. “When you’re appreciating somebody, be very specific about what it is that you’re appreciating, as it can operate like positive reinforcement. When you do that, people know exactly the behaviour that you want repeated. And so, in that way, it functions as a performance-enhancing tool.”

Recognition not only prevents future loss, but it actually pays for itself and then some

One thing to bear in mind is that not everyone will want to receive recognition in the same way. “Some people are more private and some people are okay with public [recognition]. It is interesting to consider what people want and need, but our data shows that people are not asked how they prefer to receive recognition nearly enough,” says Martin. She adds that technology can help with this. “If you’re using technology to enable these experiences, people can indicate their preferences there. And all of a sudden, you don’t have to remember, you don’t stumble, because you can’t remember who likes what.”

Martin also notes that social recognition, recognition in a social media-like feed, in particular, can be a great way to celebrate employees as people are used to them being tools for recognition and they don’t feel as public or intense as in-person praise.

Embracing the ripple effect

Martin recalls how she took this positive technique and applied it to her own life. “What really surprised me is the impact it had on my personal life and my personal relationships because it becomes a habit. I started telling people, friends and loved ones exactly what I appreciated about them. This habit transforms your space and your relationships wherever they occur, at work or your personal life.”

If we can’t escape the lines between our work and home lives becoming blurred, why not let some of the positive things bleed through? “We told ourselves this lie. We said ‘professional and personal,’” says Martin. “The pandemic taught us that those two distinctions don’t really exist. In fact, the more I can just be myself at work, the better I am at my job and the better I am in real life.” The Gallup research states that when recognition hits the mark, 44% of employees are more likely to be thriving in life.

Martin adds: “It also makes a difference particularly for Black and Hispanic people who may not necessarily feel like they belong. When those aspects are present in an organisation, they’re more likely to see a path to grow in that organisation, they’re more likely to feel like the organisation cares about their wellbeing, and they’re more likely to be thriving as well. So it’s a great way to make a difference to work culture but also in the lives of people as well.”

Embedding a culture of recognition

It can be tough for organisations to rebuild and improve their cultures in a post-covid world and prioritise employee experience and wellbeing. “The reality is, managers are people and they’re going through a tough time just like the rest of us,” says Martin. “Nobody anticipated that all of this was going to happen, so we’re trying to react to this and make sure everybody else is okay while simultaneously making sure we’re okay. It’s hard.”

So how can organisations embed a culture of recognition? “The first and one of the most important things is signalling that it’s important, which means from a practical perspective, investing in it, having a set budget, and an official recognition program,” says Martin. “One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in this space is considering this type of investment a sunk cost, when it is really an investment to prevent a future loss.” According to the research, creating a culture of recognition can save a 10,000-employee company up to $16.1m in turnover costs annually.

Martin continues: “Recognition not only prevents future loss, but it actually pays for itself and then some – you can consider it a revenue-generating investment. Investing in recognition upfront, making the program known throughout the organisation, and then having senior leaders be power users, sharing gratitude and appreciation often, those are the signals to employees that appreciation and recognition belong here and that it is important to us.”

Q&A: Boosting employee experience at Version 1

Reka Fasi, HR consultant at IT services company Version 1, describes how a partnership with Workhuman helped them build a consistent and personalised approach to recognition

Why was it important to you to improve employee experience?

Empowering our people and enhancing our employee experience has always been a top priority, especially for our senior leadership team, which is committed to continuously making the company a great place to work.

As an IT services company, it’s our people who set us apart from the competition. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the employee experience so we can attract and retain the very best talent out there and ultimately deliver the best service possible to our customers.

What were some of the challenges you were having bringing the human element to work and prioritising employee recognition?

Over the last four years, we’ve grown from 1,200 people to more than 2,000 and our teams are now more spread out across the world. We’ve also acquired 13 companies in this time. This expansion has been great for business, but it does present a challenge from a recognition standpoint. Different territories, business divisions and, of course, the pandemic – when the vast majority of us were working from home – created a whole new set of challenges.

We could see we needed a more consistent and personalised approach; one that aligned to – and helped promote and continue to bring to life our ‘Core Value’ behaviours, and one which was truly inclusive of all our people, wherever they were based.

As an IT services company, it’s our people who set us apart from the competition

What are some of the changes you’ve implemented?

In 2020, with the help of Workhuman, we introduced a new global peer-to-peer recognition programme named CallOut. This is a digital and mobile platform which anyone in the company – whether in the office, at home or hybrid – can use to call out the excellent work of their colleagues.

CallOut plays a strategic role in Version 1’s business. The platform empowers our people to recognise their peers when they behave in a way that is aligned with our overall goals or for excelling in their role. Showcasing these contributions provides inspiration to others to behave in a similar way. This creates a cascade effect that is invaluable as we continuously look to enhance our already well-established positive culture.

How have employee experience and engagement improved? What results have you seen?

In the first full year, we saw a huge amount of activity on the CallOut platform. Some 87% of people were recognised for their contribution, so we are already ahead of Workhuman’s best practice target of 80%.

What’s more, more than half of our employees have recognised their peers. When we benchmark this against other companies in the tech sector, we can see we are already outperforming the majority of businesses. Version 1 is a data-driven organisation. We’re constantly reviewing the rich data points that CallOut provides to identify exemplary teams and individuals, and allows us to tap into areas that need a little more support. This recognition data is pivotal to the continued success of Version 1 as it is helping us improve the employee experience right across the board.

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